WVU Trip To Garden Sparks Memories For Huggins
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins admits much of his playing career is shrouded in clouds. After all, it has been more than 40 years since he last scored a basket or committed a turnover.
An awful lot of living and coaching has passed since then, 38 years now as a head coach, 850 wins, too many losses.
But there is one thing that sticks out in Bob Huggins’ mind from that playing career.
“I remember playing in the Garden,” he said as he began readying himself for yet another visit to the World’s Most Famous Arena to bring his West Virginia basketball team into the Jimmy V Classic to face Florida tonight at 9:00 p.m.
“I remember walking into the Garden for the first time. The New York Knicks were finishing up practice when we walked in.”
The year was 1976 and it was quite an array of talent Bob Huggins came across as he walked across the floor. The Knicks that year had the likes of Bill Bradley, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Spencer Haywood, Bob McAdoo, Dean “The Dream” Meminger, Butch Beard, Tom McMillen, Lonnie Shelton and a backup forward who would become a pretty fair coach himself named Phil Jackson.
Yeah, that one.
Think about Madison Square Garden for a minute. What has been held there?
The Knicks play there. The NHL Rangers play there. The Big East holds its basketball tournament there. The NIT finals are there.
Anything big and indoor act has been there. Rodeos, circuses, the 2004 Republican National Convention, the Westminster Kennel Club, Disney on Ice, the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight championship fight.
George Harrison had The Concert for Bangladesh there, The Concert for New York City following the September 11 attacks was there, John Lennon’s final concert appearance.
At one point Elton John held the record for 64 appearances at the Garden, and the list includes Madonna and the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin for three nights as a movie and album were put together. There were the Police and Springsteen and Taylor Swift selling out her show in one minute.
This is what Huggins gets across to his team as it readies itself to play there for the first time since 2015.
“They say it’s called ‘The Mecca’ and I think that’s where guys really develop reputations, when they play in that kind of atmosphere” Huggins said.
It still gets to him, even today.
“It’s pretty neat when you go in and think about the history,” Huggins admitted. “The games that were in there, the players that were in there, you’re in front of more national media than you’ve ever been in front of.”
Huggins says it hits you right as you walk in the building.
“You get on the elevator, they might have just had some elephants in there from the circus or they are taking the trash out. Then the doors open and you’re in the most famous basketball arena in the world,” he said.
This one is even more special, though, because it’s about Jimmy Valvano and about fighting cancer.
Huggins got along well with Valvano. Like those two personalities wouldn’t mesh?
“We did a lot of Nike clinics together where we were together Friday to Sunday,” Huggins said.
One moment, though, comes back to Huggins as he thinks about Jimmy V.
“We were in either the last game or next to last game he broadcast. I know it was toward the end. Someone came in and say ‘Jimmy wants to see you.’ I went in and gave him a hug and said ‘How you doing?’”
Valvano looked at him and answered, “What do you mean? I have cancer.”
It wasn’t too much longer until he was gone but his memory survives with those who knew him and with far more who didn’t.
He was, of course, a brash New Yorker, as typical of the city as you can be, a coach who won a national championship at North Carolina State.
“You couldn’t help but laugh when you were around him,” Huggins said.
In many ways, they ought to make Huggins an honorary New Yorker. He may not be as loud as a native, but he exists as they exist and he loves his visits there.
“The city has a buzz,” he said. “It moves a little faster than what we move here. Everyone always in a hurry.”
In the early days, as player, all he saw of New York was from the bus, but later when he was an assistant coach at Ohio State he recruited New York a lot and found it’s whole lot different than the view from the bus.
Think of it this way. Once upon time there was a bar called Runyon’s. You could go in there any night and run into Bob Costas or Bill Raftery or the baseball umpire Joe West or Bruce Froemming.
Uptown a little further was P.J. Clarke’s saloon that was founded in 1884 and you might run into any kind of celebrity or athlete or politician in there. That is how the city’s heart beats.
“Me, I go to Harrington’s,” Huggins said. “Go out of the hotel, it’s right across the street. You go in look to the right and there’s pictures of all the New York sports teams. The only one that isn’t a New York team is us from the year we won the Big East Tournament.”
Yeah, Bob Huggins is big in New York, too.